India: Trevelyan grilled on UK's plans for a trade deal
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Angus MacNeil, chair of the international trade committee, used the brief gathering to criticise the minister for cancelling her appearance in front of MPs. In a stunt to signify Ms Trevelyan’s failure to attend, Mr MacNeil called on the Secretary of State to give evidence despite having been made aware she would not make the hearing last night.
The committee is looking into the benefits of the UK’s new post-Brexit trade deal with Australia and was set to quiz the minister on the pact.
An empty chair was set out for where Ms Trevelyan had been expected to be seated.
Addressing the committee this morning, Ms MacNeil said: “Welcome to the international trade committee and our session on Australia. We call the Secretary of State Anne Marie Trevelyan.”
After a slight pause for dramatic effect, he added: “We have been told she will not be coming this morning to the unanimous disappointment of all members of the committee.
“We feel this is a disrespect to the committee. We are very disappointed.”
He added: “We think this sets a very worrying precedent, unanimously, for the way the Government is dealing with scrutiny of the free trade agreements.”
Ms Trevelyan was forced to postpone giving evidence to the committee in order to give a statement in the House of Commons this afternoon.
At 12.30pm the minister will update MPs on the action the UK Government is taking in relation to steel tariffs.
The diary clash comes on the same day the international trade committee accused the Government of attempting to dodge scrutiny on the Australia deal.
The MPs urged a delay in ratifying the deal, which was heralded by the Government as the first negotiated from scratch since leaving the EU amid a promise that it would leave the country £2.3billion better off.
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A report from the committee said the Government’s attitude to parliamentary scrutiny of the deal “has undermined that statutory process and shown great discourtesy to Parliament”.
International agreements must be brought before parliament, with 21 sitting days allocated to MPs to consider any deal.
That process was triggered earlier this month by the Government, and the trade committee has accused the Government of repeatedly frustrating efforts at effective scrutiny of the new and complex trade deal.
In the report, MPs bemoan a “persistent lack of clarity” in the timetable for parliamentary scrutiny, calling their demands for a guaranteed period of time to complete their report “not unreasonable”.
“We have been greatly disappointed that the Government has repeatedly failed to accede to our request that we be guaranteed a period of at least 15 sitting days between the publication of the section 42 report and the laying of the Agreement under the Act, to allow us to finalise and publish our report,” MPs wrote in the report.
“Overhasty ratification, without the chance to complete full scrutiny, runs the risk that any significant disbenefits of the Agreement may be overlooked or disregarded.”
A Department for International Trade spkesman responded: “We have made enhanced commitments to scrutiny and transparency at every stage of negotiation.
“This includes already giving Parliament over six months to scrutinise the legal text, in addition to the 21-day period provided by us triggering the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act process.
“We spent 18 months negotiating and signing an ambitious UK-Australia deal that will unlock £10.4billion of additional trade and look forward to seeing it come into force so consumers and businesses across the UK can start enjoying the benefits.”
On Ms Trevelyan’s absence from today’s committee, the spokesman added: “The International Trade Secretary is in the process of finalising a finely balanced decision on the steel safeguard by 30 June. This is an issue of national strategic importance, and she has had to ensure she is able to review the final advice from the Department before updating Parliament today.
“She informed the chair of the International Trade Committee last night, apologised for having to cancel and immediately offered an alternative two-hour slot next week. We await the response from the Committee.”
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